SATURDAY IN BEIJING will see Kurt Maflin and Gary Wilson each attempt to reach the first ranking event final of their respective careers.
Maflin edged Shaun Murphy 5-4 to reach the China Open semi-finals on Friday while Wilson beat Barry Hawkins 5-3. Maflin’s reward is a meeting with Mark Selby, who won the last two frames to beat Robert Milkins 5-4, and Wilson will play Ding Junhui, who prevailed in a thrilling deciding frame finish against John Higgins.
Maflin has been in a ranking semi before – at the 2013 PTC Grand Finals – but this is a bigger stage and a bigger match for the Norway-based Londoner. He is one of those players very highly regarded within the game for whom an extended run in a big tournament has long been a possibility.
A naturally attacking player, he will not want Selby to dictate the style of match. The world champion once again showed his fighting spirit to deny Milkins not only a place in the last four but also the chance to earn an automatic Crucible seeding, much to Stephen Maguire’s relief no doubt.
Wilson was appearing in his second ranking event quarter-final of the campaign, after reaching this stage of the Welsh Open in February.
He came to Beijing having earned £20,099 in prize money this season and will now at least double that having been guaranteed £21,000 for progressing to the semi-finals.
Against Hawkins, he pulled off some assured recovery pots having lost ideal position at times and was overall impressive. A former world under 21 champion, the one table set-up in a big ranking event will be new to him, as will the vociferous support Ding will receive. But Ding will have to cope with the pressure of expectation that being the local boy, as well as the favourite, brings.
Then again, China’s no.1 is doubtless happy just to still be in the tournament after his dramatic match against Higgins, which was a high quality contest featuring a very exciting conclusion.
Ding went in-off potting the black from the penultimate red, attempting to take the cue ball around the table. With ball in hand, Higgins put him back in and Ding fluked the last red to a middle pocket.
He eventually broke down on the green but Higgins missed it, imparting side to check it off the side cushion for the brown. This left Ding with a golden chance to win, which he took to the delight of the audience.
A Ding v Selby final would be favourite but not a certainty given the shocks we’ve seen this week, some of which have been caused by Maflin and Wilson, two players now on the threshold of a ranking final.
Photographs by Monique Limbos.